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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Pilot: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 29
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The Pilot: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 29 Post by :opabertnet Category :Long Stories Author :James Fenimore Cooper Date :May 2012 Read :1368

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The Pilot: A Tale Of The Sea - Chapter 29

CHAPTER XXIX

"_Don Pedro_. Welcome, Signior: you are almost come to part almost a fray."
_Much Ado About Nothing._

"Down with your arms, you Englishmen!" said the daring intruder; "and you, who fight in the cause of sacred liberty, stay your hands, that no unnecessary blood may flow. Yield yourself, proud Briton, to the power of the Thirteen Republics!"

"Ha!" exclaimed Borroughcliffe, grasping a pistol, with an air of great resolution, "the work thickens--I had not included this man in my estimate of their numbers. Is he a Samson, that his single arm can change the face of things so suddenly! Down with your own weapon, you masquerader! or, at the report of this pistol, your body shall be made a target for twenty bullets."

"And thine for a hundred!" returned the Pilot.--"Without there! wind your call, fellow, and bring in our numbers. We will let this confident gentleman feel his weakness."

He had not done speaking, before the shrill whistle of a boatswain rose gradually on the ears of the listeners, until the sense of hearing became painfully oppressed by the piercing sounds that rang under the arched roof of the hall, and penetrated even to the most distant recesses of the abbey. A tremendous rush of men followed, who drove in before them the terrified fragment of Borroughcliffe's command, that had held the vestibule; and the outer room became filled with a dark mass of human bodies.

"Let them hear ye, lads!" cried their leader; "the abbey is your own!"

The roaring of a tempest was not louder than the shout that burst from his followers, who continued their cheers, peal on peal, until the very roof of the edifice appeared to tremble with their vibrations. Numerous dark and shaggy heads were seen moving around the passage; some cased in the iron-bound caps of the frigate's boarders, and others glittering with the brazen ornaments of her marine guard. The sight of the latter did not fail to attract the eye of Manual, who rushed among the throng, and soon reappeared, followed by a trusty band of his own men, who took possession of the post held by the soldiers of Borroughcliffe, while the dialogue was continued between the leaders of the adverse parties.

Thus far Colonel Howard had yielded to his guest, with a deep reverence for the principles of military subordination, the functions of a commander; but, now that affairs appeared to change so materially, he took on himself the right to question these intruders into his dwelling.

"By what authority, sir," the colonel demanded, "is it that you dare thus to invade the castle of a subject of this realm? Do you come backed by the commission of the lord lieutenant of the county, or has your warrant the signature of his majesty's secretary for the home department?"

"I bear no commission from any quarter," returned the Pilot; "I rank only an humble follower of the friends of America; and having led these gentlemen into danger, I have thought it my duty to see them extricated. They are now safe; and the right to command all that hear me rests with Mr. Griffith, who is commissioned by the Continental Congress for such service."

When he had spoken, he fell back from the position he occupied in the centre of the room, to one of its sides, where, leaning his body against the wainscot, he stood a silent observer of what followed.

"It appears, then, that it is to you, degenerate son of a most worthy father, that I must repeat my demand," continued the veteran. "By what right is my dwelling thus rudely assailed? and why is my quiet and the peace of those I protect so daringly violated?"

"I might answer you, Colonel Howard, by saying that it is according to the laws of arms, or rather in retaliation for the thousand evils that your English troops have inflicted between Maine and Georgia; but I wish not to increase the unpleasant character of this scene, and I therefore will tell you that our advantage shall be used with moderation. The instant that our men can be collected, and our prisoners properly secured, your dwelling shall be restored to your authority. We are no freebooters, sir; and you will find it so after our departure. Captain Manual, draw off your guard into the grounds, and make your dispositions for a return march to our boats--let the boarders fall back, there! out with ye! out with ye--tumble out, you boarders!"

The amicable order of the young lieutenant, which was delivered after the stern, quick fashion of his profession, operated on the cluster of dark figures that were grouped around the door like a charm; and as the men whom Barnstable had led followed their shipmates into the courtyard, the room was now left to such only as might be termed the gentlemen of the invading party, and the family of Colonel Howard.

Barnstable had continued silent since his senior officer had assumed the command, listening most attentively to each syllable that fell from either side; but now that so few remained, and the time pressed, he spoke again:

"If we are to take boat so soon, Mr. Griffith, it would be seemly that due preparations should be made to receive the ladies, who are to honor us with their presence; shall I take that duty on myself?"

The abrupt proposal produced a universal surprise in his hearers; though the abashed and conscious expression of Katherine Plowden's features sufficiently indicated that to her, at least, it was not altogether unexpected. The long silence that succeeded the question was interrupted by Colonel Howard.

"Ye are masters, gentlemen; help yourselves to whatever best suits your inclinations. My dwelling, my goods, and my wards, are alike at your disposal--or, perhaps Miss Alice here, good and kind Miss Alice Dunscombe, may suit the taste of some among ye! Ah! Edward Griffith! Edward Griffith! little did I ever--"

"Breathe not that name in levity again, thou scoffer, or even your years may prove a feeble protection!" said a stern, startling voice from behind. All eyes turned involuntarily at the unexpected sounds, and the muscular form of the Pilot was seen resuming its attitude of repose against the wall, though every fibre of his frame was working with suppressed passion.

When the astonished looks of Griffith ceased to dwell on this extraordinary exhibition of interest in his companion, they were turned imploringly towards the fair cousins, who still occupied the distant corner, whither fear had impelled them.

"I have said that we are not midnight marauders, Colonel Howard," he replied: "but if any there be here, who will deign to commit themselves to our keeping, I trust it will not be necessary to say, at this hour, what will be their reception."

"We have not time for unnecessary compliments," cried the impatient Barnstable; "here is Merry, who, by years and blood, is a suitable assistant for them, in arranging their little baggage--what say you, urchin, can you play the lady's maid on emergency?"

"Ay, sir, and better than I acted the peddler boy," cried the gay youngster; "to have my merry cousin Kate and my good cousin Cicely for shipmates, I could play our common grandmother! Come, coz, let us be moving; you will have to allow a little leeway in time, for my awkwardness."

"Stand back, young man," said Miss Howard, repulsing his familiar attempt to take her arm; and then advancing, with a maidenly dignity, nigher to her guardian, she continued, "I cannot know what stipulations have been agreed to by my cousin Plowden, in the secret treaty she has made this night with Mr. Barnstable: this for myself, Colonel Howard, I would have you credit your brother's child when she says, that to her, the events of the hour have not been more unexpected than to yourself."

The veteran gazed at her, for a moment, with an expression of his eye that denoted reviving tenderness; but gloomy doubts appeared to cross his mind again, and he shook his head, as he walked proudly away.

"Nay, then," added Cecilia, her head dropping meekly on her bosom, "I may be discredited by my uncle, but I cannot be disgraced without some act of my own."

She slowly raised her mild countenance again, and bending her eyes on her lover, she continued, while a rich rush of blood passed over her fine features:

"Edward Griffith, I will not, I cannot say how humiliating it is to think that you can, for an instant, believe I would again forget myself so much as to wish to desert him whom God has given me for a protector, for one chosen by my own erring passions. And you, Andrew Merry! Learn to respect the child of your mother's sister, if not for her own sake, at least for that of her who watched your cradle!"

"Here appears to be some mistake." said Barnstable, who participated, however, in no trifling degree, in the embarrassment of the abashed boy; "but, like all other mistakes on such subjects, it can be explained away, I suppose. Mr. Griffith, it remains for you to speak--damn it, man," he whispered, "you are as dumb as a codfish--I am sure so fine a woman is worth a little fair-weather talk:--you are muter than a four- footed beast--even an ass can bray!"

"We will hasten our departure, Mr. Barnstable," said Griffith, sighing heavily, and rousing himself, as if from a trance. "These rude sights cannot but appall the ladies. You will please, sir, to direct the order of our march to the shore. Captain Manual has charge of our prisoners, who must all be secured, to answer for an equal number of our own countrymen."

"And our countrywomen!" said Barnstable, "are they to be forgotten, in the selfish recollection of our own security?"

"With them we have no right to interfere, unless at their request."

"By heaven! Mr. Griffith, this may smack of learning," cried the other, "and it may plead bookish authority as its precedent; but let me tell you, sir, it savors but little of a sailor's love."

"Is it unworthy of a seaman, and a gentleman, to permit the woman he calls his mistress to be so, other than in name?"

"Well, then, Griff, I pity you, from my soul. I would rather have had a sharp struggle for the happiness that I shall now obtain so easily, than that you should be thus cruelly disappointed. But you cannot blame me, my friend, that I avail myself of fortune's favor. Miss Plowden, your fair hand. Colonel Howard, I return you a thousand thanks for the care you have taken, hitherto, of this precious charge; and believe me, sir, that I speak frankly, when I say, that, next to myself, I should choose to entrust her with you in preference to any man on earth."

The colonel turned to the speaker, and bowed low, while he answered with grave courtesy:

"Sir, you repay my slight services with too much gratitude. If Miss Katherine Plowden has not become under my guardianship all that her good father, Captain John Plowden, of the Royal Navy, could have wished a daughter of his to be, the fault, unquestionably, is to be attributed to my inability to instruct, and to no inherent quality in the young lady herself. I will not say, Take her, sir, since you have her in your possession already, and it would be out of my power to alter the arrangement; therefore, I can only wish that you may find her as dutiful as a wife as she has been, hitherto, as a ward and a subject."

Katherine had yielded her hand, passively, to her lover, and suffered him to lead her more into the circle than she had before been; but now she threw off his arm, and shaking aside the dark curls which she had rather invited to fall in disorder around her brow, she raised her face and looked proudly up, with an eye that sparkled with the spirit of its mistress, and a face that grew pale with emotion at each moment, as she proceeded:

"Gentlemen, the one may be as ready to receive as the other is to reject; but has the daughter of John Plowden no voice in this cool disposal of her person? If her guardian tires of her presence, other habitations may be found, without inflicting so severe a penalty on this gentleman as to compel him to provide for her accommodation in a vessel which must be already straitened for room!"

She turned, and rejoined her cousin with such an air of maidenly resentment as a young woman would be apt to discover, who found herself the subject of matrimonial arrangement without her own feelings being at all consulted. Barnstable, who knew but little of the windings of the female heart, or how necessary to his mistress, notwithstanding her previous declarations, the countenance of Cecilia, was to any decided and open act in his favor, stood in stupid wonder at her declaration. He could not conceive that a woman who had already ventured so much in secret in his behalf, and who had so often avowed her weakness, should shrink to declare it again at such a crisis, though the eyes of a universe were on her! He looked from one of the party to the other, and met in every face an expression of delicate reserve, except in those of the guardian of his mistress, and of Borroughcliffe.

The colonel had given a glance of returning favor at her whom he now conceived to be his repentant ward, while the countenance of the entrapped captain exhibited a look of droll surprise, blended with the expression of bitter ferocity it had manifested since the discovery of his own mishap.

"Perhaps, sir," said Barnstable, addressing the latter, fiercely, "you see something amusing about the person of this lady, to divert you thus unseasonably. We tolerate no such treatment of our women in America!"

"Nor do we quarrel before ours in England," returned the soldier, throwing back the fierce glance of the sailor with interest; "but I was thinking of the revolutions that time can produce; nothing more, I do assure you. It is not half an hour since I thought myself a most happy fellow; secure in my plans for overreaching the scheme you had laid to surprise me; and now I am as miserable a dog as wears a single epaulette, and has no hope of seeing its fellow!"

"And in what manner, sir, can this sudden change apply to me?" asked Katherine, with all her spirit.

"Certainly not to your perseverance in the project to assist my enemies, madam," returned the soldier, with affected humility; "nor to your zeal for their success, or your consummate coolness at the supper-table! But I find it is time that I should be superannuated--I can no longer serve my king with credit, and should take to serving my God, like all other worn-out men of the world! My hearing is surely defective, or a paddock- wall has a most magical effect in determining sounds!"

Katherine waited not to hear the close of this sentence, but walked to a distant part of the room to conceal the burning blushes that covered her countenance. The manner in which the plans of Barnstable had become known to his foe was no longer a mystery. Her conscience also reproached her a little with some unnecessary coquetry, as she remembered that quite one-half of the dialogue between her lover and herself, under the shadow of that very wall to which Borroughcliffe alluded, had been on a subject altogether foreign to contention and tumults. As the feelings of Barnstable were by no means so sensitive as those of his mistress, and his thoughts much occupied with the means of attaining his object, he did not so readily comprehend the indirect allusion of the soldier, but turned abruptly away to Griffith, and observed with a serious air:

"I feel it my duty, Mr. Griffith, to suggest that we have standing instructions to secure all the enemies of America, wherever they may be found, and to remind you that the States have not hesitated to make prisoners of females in many instances."

"Bravo!" cried Borroughcliffe; "if the ladies will not go as your mistresses, take them as your captives!"

"'Tis well for you, sir, that you are a captive yourself, or you should be made to answer for this speech," retorted the irritated Barnstable. "It is a responsible command, Mr. Griffith, and must not be disregarded."

"To your duty, Mr. Barnstable," said Griffith, again rousing from deep abstraction; "you have your orders, sir; let them be executed promptly."

"I have also the orders of our common superior, Captain Munson, Mr. Griffith; and I do assure you, sir, that in making out my instructions for the Ariel--poor thing! there are no two of her timbers hanging together--but my instructions were decidedly particular on that head."

"And my orders now supersede them."

"But am I justifiable in obeying a verbal order from an inferior, in direct opposition to a written instruction?"

Griffith had hitherto manifested in his deportment nothing more than a cold determination to act, but the blood now flew to every vessel in his cheeks and forehead, and his dark eyes flashed fire, as he cried authoritatively:

"How, sir! do you hesitate to obey?"

"By heaven, sir, I would dispute the command of the Continental Congress itself, should they bid me so far to forget my duty to--to--"

"Add yourself, sir!--Mr. Barnstable, let this be the last of it. To your duty, sir."

"My duty calls me here, Mr. Griffith."

"I must act, then, or be bearded by my own officers. Mr. Merry, direct Captain Manual to send in a sergeant and a file of marines."

"Bid him come on himself!" cried Barnstable, maddened to desperation by his disappointment; "'tis not his whole corps that can disarm me--let them come on! Hear, there, you Ariels! rally around your captain."

"The man among them who dares to cross that threshold without my order, dies," cried Griffith, menacing with a naked hanger the seamen who had promptly advanced at the call of their old commander. "Yield your sword, Mr. Barnstable, and spare yourself the disgrace of having it forced from you by a common soldier."

"Let me see the dog who dare attempt it!" exclaimed Barnstable, flourishing his weapon in fierce anger. Griffith had extended his own arm in the earnestness of his feelings, and their hangers crossed each other. The clashing of the steel operated on both like the sound of the clarion on a war-horse, and there were sudden and rapid blows, and as rapid parries, exchanged between the flashing weapons.

"Barnstable! Barnstable!" cried Katherine, rushing into his arms, "I will go with you to the ends of the earth!"

Cecilia Howard did not speak; but when Griffith recovered his coolness, he beheld her beautiful form kneeling at his feet, with her pale face bent imploringly on his own disturbed countenance. The cry of Miss Plowden had separated the combatants, before an opportunity for shedding blood had been afforded; but the young men exchanged looks of keen resentment, notwithstanding the interference of their mistresses. At this moment Colonel Howard advanced, and raising his niece from her humble posture, said:

"This is not a situation for a child of Harry Howard, though she knelt in the presence, and before the throne, of her sovereign. Behold, my dear Cecilia, the natural consequences of this rebellion! It scatters discord in their ranks; and, by its damnable leveling principles, destroys all distinction of rank among themselves; even these rash boys know not where obedience is due!"

"It is due to me," said the Pilot, who now stepped forward among the agitated group, "and it is time that I enforce it. Mr. Griffith, sheathe your sword. And you, sir, who have defied the authority of your senior officer, and have forgotten the obligation of your oath, submit, and return to your duty."

Griffith started at the sounds of his calm voice, as if with sudden recollection; and then, bowing low, he returned the weapon to its scabbard. But Barnstable still encircled the waist of his mistress with one arm, while with the other he brandished his hanger, and laughed with scorn at this extraordinary assumption of authority.

"And who is this," he cried, "who dare give such an order to me!"

The eyes of the Pilot flashed with a terrible fire, while a fierce glow seemed to be creeping over his whole frame, which actually quivered with passion. But, suppressing this exhibition of his feelings, by a sudden and powerful effort, he answered in an emphatic manner:

"One who has a right to order, and who _will be obeyed!"

The extraordinary manner of the speaker contributed as much as his singular assertion to induce Barnstable, in his surprise, to lower the point of his weapon, with an air that might easily have been mistaken for submission. The Pilot fastened his glowing eyes on him, for an instant, and then turning to the rest of the listeners, he continued more mildly:

"It is true that we came not here as marauders, and that our wish is to do no unnecessary acts of severity to the aged and the helpless. But this officer of the crown, and this truant American in particular, are fairly our prisoners; as such, they must be conducted on board our ship."

"But the main object of our expedition?" said Griffith.

"'Tis lost," returned the Pilot, hastily--"'tis sacrificed to more private feelings; 'tis like a hundred others, ended in disappointment, and is forgotten, sir, forever. But the interests of the Republics must not be neglected, Mr. Griffith.--Though we are not madly to endanger the lives of those gallant fellows, to gain a love-smile from one young beauty, neither are we to forget the advantages they may have obtained for us, in order to procure one of approbation from another. This Colonel Howard will answer well in a bargain with the minions of the Crown, and may purchase the freedom of some worthy patriot who is deserving of his liberty. Nay, nay, suppress that haughty look, and turn that proud eye on any, rather than me; he goes to the frigate, sir, and that immediately."

"Then," said Cecilia Howard, timidly approaching the spot where her uncle stood, a disdainful witness of the dissensions among his captors; "then will I go with him! He shall never be a resident among his enemies alone!"

"It would be more ingenuous, and more worthy of my brother's daughter," said her uncle, coldly, "if she ascribed her willingness to depart to its proper motive." Disregarding the look of deep distress with which Cecilia received this mortifying rejection of her tender attention, the old man on receiving this order, rushed into the room in a medley; but, notwithstanding the surly glances, and savage characters of their dress and equipments, they struck no blow, nor committed any act of hostility. The ladies shrank back appalled, as this terrific little band took possession of the hall; and even Borroughcliffe was seen to fall back towards a door which, in some measure, covered his retreat. The confusion of this sudden movement had not yet subsided, when sounds of strife were heard rapidly approaching from a distant part of the building, and presently one of the numerous doors of the apartment was violently opened, when two of the garrison of the abbey rushed into the hall, vigorously pressed by twice their number of seamen, seconded by Griffith, Manual, and Merry, who were armed with such weapons of offence as had presented themselves to their hands, at their unexpected liberation. There was a movement on the part of the seamen who were already in possession of the room, that threatened instant death to the fugitives; but Barnstable beat down their pikes with his sword, and sternly ordered them to fall back. Surprise produced the same pacific result among the combatants; and as the soldiers hastily sought a refuge behind their own officers, and the released captives, with their liberators, joined the body of their friends, the quiet of the hall, which had been so rudely interrupted, was soon restored.

"You see, sir," said Barnstable, after grasping the hands of Griffith and Manual in a warm and cordial pressure, "that all my plans have succeeded. Your sleeping guard are closely watched in their barracks by one party; our officers are released and your sentinels cut off by another; while, with a third, I hold the centre of the abbey, and am, substantially, in possession of your own person. In consideration, therefore, of what is due to humanity, and to the presence of these ladies, let there be no struggle. I shall impose no difficult terms, nor any long imprisonment."

The recruiting officer manifested a composure throughout it, and the latter laughing, and indulging those buoyant spirits that a boy of his years and reflection might be supposed to feel even in such a scene. It was fortunate for her cousin that Katherine had possessed so much forethought; for the attention of Cecilia Howard was directed much more to the comforts of her uncle than to those which were necessary for herself. Attended by Alice Dunscombe, the young mistress of St. Ruth moved through the solitary apartments of the building, listening to the mild religious consolation of her companion in silence, at times yielding to those bursts of mortified feeling, that she could not repress, or again as calmly giving her orders to her maids, as if the intended movement was one of but ordinary interest. All this time the party in the dining-hall remained stationary. The Pilot, as if satisfied with what he had already done, sank back to his reclining attitude against the wall, though his eyes keenly watched every movement of the preparations, in a manner which denoted that his was the master spirit that directed the whole. Griffith had, however, resumed, in appearance, the command, and the busy seamen addressed themselves for orders to him alone. In this manner an hour was consumed, when Cecilia and Katherine appearing in succession attired in a suitable manner for their departure, and the baggage of the whole party having been already entrusted to a petty officer and a party of his men, Griffith gave forth the customary order to put the whole in motion. The shrill, piercing whistle of the boatswain once more rang among the galleries and ceilings of the abbey, and was followed by the deep, hoarse cry of:

"Away, there, you shore-draft! away, there, you boarders! ahead, heave ahead, sea-dogs!"

This extraordinary summons was succeeded by the roll of a drum and the strains of a fife, from without, when the whole party moved from the building in the order that had been previously prescribed by Captain Manual, who acted as the marshal of the forces on the occasion.

The Pilot had conducted his surprise with so much skill and secrecy as to have secured every individual about the abbey, whether male or female, soldier or civilian; and as it might be dangerous to leave any behind who could convey intelligence into the country, Griffith had ordered that every human being found in the building should be conducted to the cliffs; to be held in durance at least until the departure of the last boat to the cutter, which, he was informed, lay close in to the land, awaiting their re-embarkation. The hurry of the departure had caused many lights to be kindled in the abbey, and the contrast between the glare within and the gloom without attracted the wandering looks of the captives, as they issued into the paddock. One of those indefinable and unaccountable feelings which so often cross the human mind induced Cecilia to pause at the great gate of the grounds, and look back at the abbey, with a presentiment that she was to behold it for the last time. The dark and ragged outline of the edifice was clearly delineated against the northern sky, while the open windows and neglected doors permitted a view of the solitude within. Twenty tapers were shedding their useless light in the empty apartments, as if in mockery of the deserted walls; and Cecilia turned shuddering from the sight, to press nigher to the person of her indignant uncle, with a secret impression that her presence would soon be more necessary than ever to his happiness.

The low hum of voices in front, with the occasional strains of the fife, and the stern mandates of the sea-officers, soon recalled her, however, from these visionary thoughts to the surrounding realities, while the whole party pursued their way with diligence to the margin of the ocean.

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